A birder’s and homeowner’s checklist for spring

For the Lowell Association for the Blind, "Birding by Ear'' is an important part of the organization's programming.

Like it or not, migration and breeding seasons are well underway. Some movement is expected, but some bird arrivals are definitely early.

As lakes and rivers are opening up, greater white-fronted geese and Canada geese are appearing in good numbers. By late February people (including Outdoor News Managing Editor Rob Drieslein) were asking me, “Did I hear a sandhill crane?” Yes, cranes already are moving north. In my own neighborhood I heard one of my wintering robins calling like he was initially staking out territory.  These are all birds that can survive some snow and freezing temperatures and have a varied diet to help them cope if we get another snowstorm.

With more warm weather on the horizon, some things that people normally save for late March should probably be addressed sooner rather than later as these hearty birds arrive earlier than usual.

Prepare wood duck boxes. Have you cleaned out your duck boxes from last year? If not, start. Be careful, though: You might find an Eastern screech-owl using the box as a winter roost. But if there’s no one home, clean out eggs shells from last year and place some fresh cedar shavings inside.

Load up on safflower. Red-winged blackbirds are popping up at feeders, and flocks of early dominant males are descending on marshes. If blackbirds are here, common grackles can’t be far behind, and when they arrive, they will chow down on your seed in feeders. To give your other birds a chance, save one feeder – preferably one with a tray for cardinals, and fill it with plain safflower. Grackles don’t care for it but black-capped chickadees, house finches, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, mourning doves, and white-breasted nuthatches will eat it.

Plug old holes on your house. Have you had a woodpecker making holes in your house? Cover them sooner than later. Resilient, early nesters will be seeking nest cavities, and house sparrows and European starlings readily will nest in a woodpecker hole in your house. Cover that before they turn it into an even bigger mess.

American robins with access to mud may start making nests soon.

Get chickadee boxes ready. If the weather is warm enough to get a few insects going and there’s an active feeding station nearby, chickadees will attempt an early nest. If you have chickadee boxes leftover from last year, clean them. If you’ve been thinking of putting up a box, now would be a good time.

Remove wreaths. Still have some wreaths on your door or porch from the holiday season? Take them in. American robins and house finches are species that will nest early if there are a few warm days. Holiday wreaths and garlands are very attractive to them, especially if there aren’t many leaves on the trees. So unless you want to deal with dive bombing birds and poop on your welcome mat, get those out of the way ASAP.

It’s not full-on spring yet, but we’ve definitely taken a step in that direction. It’s still far too early to see hummingbirds and orioles, but we can enjoy some of those early migrants in the meantime.

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